Building Inspections What They’re Looking for, and When

Real estate lore has its share of stories about merciless, if not downright unscrupulous, city inspectors popping in on unaware building owners, conducting unscheduled examinations of all types, and sometimes even demanding payoffs in exchange for passing grades. In reality, however, the image of the shady, corrupt inspector couldn’t be further from the truth. In today’s world of short-staffed city agencies, hair-trigger litigation, and increased board transparency, inspections, safety, and efficiency rule the day. 

Take a Good, Hard Look

“Community associations consist of complex components that need to be inspected, both during transition and as part of regular maintenance,” explains Stuart J. Lieberman, a shareholder with law firm Lieberman & Blecher, P.C., in Princeton. In order to achieve a safe space for residents, staff, visitors and anyone else who may find themselves strolling by, it’s imperative that a board find the right vendor for a particular job.

Oftentimes, it can fall to the property manager to ascertain what needs be maintained and who is appropriate to do so. “The property manager should be able to make a recommendation based upon personal skill and experience,” says one East Coast management pro, “as well as the size of the project and necessary funding. The key really is to make sure that the manager knows when inspections are due and when permits must need be renewed, then follow up on that, whether with a city or state official, or with a vendor. Don’t assume that a vendor is going to do it on their own.”

And when it comes to scheduling inspections or service, most association managers recommend a “90-60-30” schedule, meaning that a smart community administrator will reach out to agencies or vendors 90 days before an inspection is due—then follow up at 60 days out, and finally, if need be, stress the urgency if you have 30 days til deadline and still haven’t gotten the requisite visit. 

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when, in fact, all inspections of this  type were done by city agencies. In some situations that still happens today, but other agencies– buildings departments, for instance – now defer in many cases to independent third parties to inspect and report on the functions and fitness of many building systems such as elevators, boilers, facades, and water towers. “Fees are involved in everything,” says Meryl Sacks, President of Meryl Sacks Real Estate Management Corp., an active co-op management firm based in New York. City agencies may not send out personnel in their employ to do inspections, but they do charge fees from building owners, co-ops, condos or rental owners for the filing and updating of inspections required to protect the safety of residents.

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